Sunday, December 15, 2013

One small step for games, One giant leap for game kind!

In 2012, Lover Letter and Coup came out and grabbed the attention of the hobby game world. These two games have basically defined a new genre of gaming - a genre that's always existed, but until now hasn't really been "a thing." These two games have started a "microgame" revolution, and over the last year more and more people have jumped on board.

What is a "microgame?" Simply put, a microgame is a game with minimal components and a minimal footprint. Love Letter and Coup consist of just 15 or 16 cards and some tokens, they are highly portable, don't take very long, but still provide a fun and interesting game experience.  As such, these types of games make excellent fillers - they fit in nicely while waiting for people to arrive, or while another game wraps up. They're also great to take on the go, so you can always have a game on hand. Most of these microgames can be played almost anywhere, not taking up much table space.

Over the last year or so, the whole idea of microgames has become very popular. Many games have been promoted with portability as a selling point, and people are excited to get a lot of bang for just a little buck. As it happens, these low component games tend to come with a lower price tag as well, and when the prices of board games have been climbing, I'm sure the lower cost of entry is a factor. Right this minute I'm listening to Dice Hate Me's State of Games podcast which is all about mini, micro, and portable games, in which Chris, Darrell, and TC each list off their favorite portable games.

Michael is a fan of this format, and to take it a step further he's happy to have found a way to deliver such a game in an affordable manner. So long as a game does not exceed 1/4" in thickness and 3 ounces in weight, the USPS considers it a letter with a non-machinable surcharge rather than a parcel, which makes a huge difference in shipping cost. He's already leveraged this discovery in 2 Kickstarter projects: Dungeon Roll Winter Promo had 5 cards and a punchboard, and Michael's own Werewolf style game, Templar Intrigue, had just 10 cards. Due to the inexpensive shipping and minimal components of these games, Michael has been able to use a Kickstarter format he's been wanting to use for a long time: Pay what you want. He's included a minimum just to cover delivery, but he's allowed backers to pay whatever they want beyond that. Those 2 projects were successful, so TMG is at it again with Coin Age, by Adam McIver. Coin Age is currently on Kickstarter, and it has caught fire - the game consists of merely a map card and pocket change.

Edit: Due to the overwhelming success of the Kickstarter project so far, an additional map has been added, and we're likely to reach another stretch goal to add a 3rd!

This format is beginning to catch on, and mini- or microgames have been seen on Kickstarter from several publishers. Games such as Council of Verona, from Crash Games, for example. Or their 5 card so called "nanogame" Where Art Thou Romeo in the same universe (currently on Kickstarter as well). Patrick Nickell has embraced the Pay What You Want format for WATR as well.

As I've posted before, I've thrown my hat in the microgame ring... MicroCiv is a 2 player (maybe 3 player) civ game with just 18 cards and 16 tiles, which I will eventually re-theme to the Eminent Domain universe. In addition to that, I designed a free game for my Twitter followers called Quick Change, which uses nothing but 10 coins and 3 dice per player. I'm playing around with a card game similar to Quick Change which is playable with a standard playing card deck.

TMG has some more portable games lined up from some of our favorite designers that I'm not at liberty to talk about yet. It's interesting to see the breadth of design space with such strict component limits. At we have a Game Design Showdown each month which similarly challenges designers to come up with a game based on some arbitrary theme, mechanics, or component restrictions. This reminds me of those challenges.

On one hand, it's exciting to see the enthusiasm people have for these small games. On the other hand, for the pessimistic lover of deeper games, it's worrisome that people may gravitate away from the 1-2 hour long strategy games in favor of these 15-30 minute games which are, almost by definition, not as deep or complex. I'm pretty sure that concern is for nothing, but it would be a shame to see my favorite types of games go by the wayside because they're just not as profitable as microgames - they take a lot more time and work to create, they cost a lot more to produce, and they cannot be delivered in any logistically efficient manner.

So when looking at these small games, I try to keep an eye out for that "bang for the buck" metric. I'm personally most interested in games with as much depth, complexity, and replayability as can be packed into these tiny packages. As a player of economic, resource management eurogames, I'm especially excited by one of the TMG submissions we've got right now... it's a small game, just 30 or so cards and some markers, but it plays like a full-on worker placement, resource management, economic strategy game. I'm looking forward to that one, and I'm hoping I can pack as much punch into MicroCiv as possible. On the down side, complexity tends to make a game less accessible, but on the up side, it makes the game more replayable and in my opinion it makes for a much more worthwhile game experience.

One more thing about these PWYW kickstarter projects... I'm happy to find that with such a small component cost, people seem to be willing to pay more than the minimum. That seems to indicate that, so long as the component cost isn't too high, people really do value game content after all! I wonder if that would work for a bigger, more expensive game, or if a "Pay What You Want, minimum $30" would effectively translate into "this game costs $30." At < $5 it's easier to throw in an extra buck or two, but at $30 I'm not sure people will be so willing.

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